(I'm not sure where this is going to go, but I have to write it right now. Guess we'll find out when we get there.)
I'm sick today. Again. Though "sick" doesn't really cover it. What I've got is the sixth day of significant come-and-go pain since the dental work last Wednesday, plus the way all the other pains are ramping up because I can't get a good night's sleep. The pain isn't from my teeth, most likely; it's probably just the trigeminal neuralgia being set off again and again by little things, after the tooth work stirred things up. I can't take most painkillers because of the Crohn's disease, though I have had a few things that helped temporarily. But that's not really important, except in telling you a little about my mood: I have that weird sort of floating awareness a person gets when they're dealing with pain, or maybe it's when they're trying not to have to deal with pain.
Whatever it is, it makes a person thoughtful.
I've been watching episodes of Carnivale on DVD. It's a good thing, having captions -- though that's a digression for another time. What I set in to write about here is the episode I'm rewatching, the one where Ben Hawkins and the carnival get themselves up as a revival, after being denied permission to set up the carnival proper. (Or improper, according to the sheriff, which is the whole trouble in the first place.)
Anyhow, the whole thing has me thinking about the traveling life. I used to work at the Renaissance Festival, lo these many years ago, and at a couple of different times I had the chance to start working the circuit. I didn't take any of those chances. It's not how my life turned. But I did think about it hard. I might have been suited to it.
Part of being suited to it is something I love, and part was something I feared for a long time. The part I loved is something I got to enjoy years later when I took my Great North American Railroad Expotition. Thirty days and more than thirteen thousand kilometers is a bit of a journey. I did it all with a purse and a carryon bag, and half of what was in the bag was my tools and workbasket and some beads. I made things for people as I went: people on the train, people I stayed with, people I met at random here and there. Although I didn't do it intentionally, I started off the trip without a book, and the way things unfolded that first day or two, I decided to give myself the traveling time with either work or looking out the windows or talking with people, but not with reading. It turned out to be one of the best things I've ever done, for connecting with people and with the land, and I long to do it again, if I can work out the trickier logistics now. Seeing new things, coming around a curve in the rails and finding a whole new place spread out and waiting to be known, getting into conversations with people in that wonderful between space that is a train, staying with people for a day or two and sharing food and talk and laughs and life stories -- those are the things I loved doing and loved being suited to.
(Somebody once asked how I could be friends with so many different kinds of people. Somebody else said I was a universal solvent, which I found kind of amusing. Maybe so. Or maybe it's the weird thing of how most of the people I meet seem to want to show me their best side. This can be startling sometimes, as the way I know a bunch of people doesn't necessarily match up to how other people know them. I remember a dear friend, ten years ago or so, getting torqued off that I wouldn't agree with her that a certain person we knew was an unmitigated awful person. He hadn't been so to me, and while I didn't much care for a bunch of things he had done to her, and said so willingly, I couldn't quite go along with the unmitigated awfulness verdict. And clundoff has some similar examples over which we've compared notes now and then. But there it is: people mostly like to open up to me, to have amiable times. It was probably part of what made the interviewing work, back when I was committing a little journalism. It's also probably a kind of naivete on my part, possibly due to a fundamentalist upbringing in the place I grew up. I don't know. But it does seem to affect things, whatever it is.)
The part that I feared was how easy it was to let go and move on. Maybe that was something I learned from having some shocks and some losses early on. When you're a little kid and your mother disappears into the hospital and what they tell you is, "Your mother was having a really hard time, but she's in a place now where she's being taken care of, and it's a lot better for her," a little kid from a fundie church might be excused for getting the wrong idea and concluding that harps and wings were involved. (And it was a bit of a shock getting her back, too, but that's a different story.) Or maybe I learned it when I finished eighth grade at the parochial school and then went to public high school, and everybody was different -- which, in a small town, takes some doing, but in our parochial school we were taught not to socialize with kids outside the faith. Whatever it was, I found during my college years that I could know a bunch of people, and feel like I was pretty close with them, and then drift away and have my life change entirely. I started to worry that I wasn't capable of sustaining any kind of close friendship. I wondered if maybe I was just one of those rootless people who was supposed to wander the earth.
Wandering the earth isn't actually such a bad gig.
No, really. You drift in, you look around. Everything's new. There's usually something beautiful, or at least interesting, in what's different. You talk to some people. They tell you things: about the place you're in, about their lives, about what they're hoping for or wondering about or running from or climbing towards. There's this miracle that happens sometimes, when somebody tells their story: they start putting pieces together. It's something beautiful to watch, when they do it in the way that means they're getting to a better place with it. I've been privileged to be present in those kind of conversations a bunch of times, and it never fails to awe me. I did sometimes wonder, though, if part of the nature of the thing was that it was only possible with somebody who drifts in and is going to drift out again.
Fortunately, there have been connections in my life that eased that worry. But still, it's a little easier to be in a traveling show, in some ways. One bag and a purse are not very much to look after. It's easier to be organized when one's personal territory, so to speak, is so circumscribed -- and maybe it's the contrast with the way the outer territory, the one through which one roams, is so unbounded... maybe it's that contrast that makes it all so powerful. I don't know. But the people I talked to weren't the only people who were putting things in order. If there was universal solvent stuff going on, I got solved some too.
I miss that. And I'll be planning another trip, I dearly hope -- but I also love the coming back, the consistency. Coming back home, but also coming back to people I know and have known for years. I love the picking up of threads of old conversations, and taking them to new places. It's a joy to be new, but I also dearly love the joy of being known. Continuity is a treasure. (And yes, the road has its own continuity, but I mean the kind that has shared references years deep, and hugs that link up to every other hug you've ever shared with that person.)
Anyway, I'm still not entirely sure exactly what it was I was setting out to tell you here, but it seemed important to write it down. And it did make my head stop hurting for a while, or at least it made me stop noticing it, so that's good.
I'll be pondering this some more. Thanks for listening.
Honour Your Inner Magpie
- thinking on the traveling life